Re: [asa] Multiverse and ID

From: Bill Powers <wjp@swcp.com>
Date: Sat May 09 2009 - 13:33:42 EDT

Ian:

You say that an explanation that can explain anything is no explanation
at all. This has always been partly my problem with evolutionary theory
broadly construed. Specific evolutionary theories can be falsified I
think, but evolution in a general sense appears to be able to explain
anything.

I agree that multiverse appears capable of explaining anything. This is
just the power of chance events and infinite time: the entire phase space
can be covered, regardless of how small the supposed probability. Hence,
anything can be explained. This is exactly the problem that ID faces:
given some notion of the probability function (something we have far
better sense of that a multiverse has) at what point do you judge an event
so unlikely that we need reject the hypothesis: a common Fisher rejection
problem. It seems to me that in the history of science we do not make
judgments about theories that way. Rather they are based on prior
commitments and comparisons with alternative theories. There simply is no
other game than the evolutionary game under MN requirements. I have
difficulty imagining what alternative theories could be on the horizon
short of a radical transformation of the scientific paradigm.

bill

  On Sat, 9
May 2009, Iain Strachan wrote:

> On Sat, May 9, 2009 at 3:21 PM, Bill Powers <wjp@swcp.com> wrote:
>
>> What Koonin is doing is just what ID attempts. He, at least in principle,
>> is attempting to "rationally" assess when a paradigm has failed, needs to be
>> abandoned, or a mark of when more fruitful research ought to be sought.
>>
>> All the commentators responded exactly as those who respond to ID respond:
>> the time is not yet, you abandon too soon the quest.
>
>
> I remember we discussed this quite a bit on the list when Lawrence first
> posted the link to Koonin's paper, with the astronomical 10^(-1018)
> probability calculation.
>
> The problem I have with Koonin's approach is the same as the problem I have
> with ID.
>
> The difficulty is that it isn't really an explanation. To invoke something
> (be it Multiverse, or an Intelligent Designer) that can explain ANYTHING is
> no explanation at all. It is as if I had a data set of, say 100
> measurements and stated that given a sufficiently complex mathematical
> function y(x) I can produce an exact fit to my dataset. But this applies
> even if the data is just random noise. Hence the explanation doesn't
> actually explain anything at all. Even Richard Dawkins made this point once
> about ID, saying something like "It explains everything, therefore it
> explains nothing". As for ID so for Koonin's Multiverse, in which there are
> some very rare universes in which the most extraordinary things can happen
> (like life).
>
> But, in the same way, it seems to me the statement "you abandon too soon the
> quest", falls foul of the same problem. Essentially we are saying that
> there MUST be a rational scientific explanation; one we haven't discovered
> yet, that will yield a much higher probability of life arising than Koonin's
> 10^(-1018). But this assertion is also an appeal to something ( which as yet
> we don't know), that will explain it. But an appeal to the unknown part of
> science is again an appeal to something that has the potential to explain
> anything, could we but find it. The problem is that we put no limit on the
> explanatory power of to-be-discovered science.
>
> So, which ever stance you take, be it materialist, ID-ist, or
> Multiverse-ist, you are taking a position that is philosophical in
> motivation, and not in itself scientific. However, if you want to do
> SCIENCE, then the only thing you may do is search for scientific
> explanations, not invoking ID, or even Multiverse theories. For all I know,
> the Multiverse/Many worlds QM theory may well be true, but it is still a
> poor explanation of why we're here - although it CAN explain it (or anything
> else like a huge teapot appearing in the Milky Way), it still makes sense to
> look for a scientific (ie limited) explanation. Limit your maths function
> to fit 100 points to a small subset of simple functions.
>
> Iain
>

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Received on Sat May 9 13:34:43 2009

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